at the bottom of the wave pool

I feel like I am fucking drowning.

Once upon a time, my father worked at a water park. I remember that there was a glorious Bump in the road on the way from our house to the park. My mom would intentionally speed up our green Ford Explorer when we drove over the Bump. It was a little bit like flying.

I remember one day so vividly. I think I was in middle school and I was in the Wave Pool. You know that beautiful dappled effect that comes from sunlight streaming in over water? The bottom floor of the bright white Wave Pool on a sunny day is still one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. So, this one afternoon, I decided to float on my stomach there in the Wave Pool. I wanted to see the light at the bottom. I was a little middle school mermaid bit of royalty. My hair was long and floated past my face. I did not yet hate the mere notion of my body in a bathing suit.

I could see the light down at the bottom.

An unfamiliar hand on my shoulder pulled me out of my undersea kingdom. Two angry older women informed me that I’d made them think I was drowning and they were going to tell the lifeguard and, oh, I was going to be in so much trouble.

We believe unfamiliar angry adult humans when we’re small, worried mermaids.

My stomach was in knots for the rest of the day (okay, my life?). I was convinced that those two angry women had indeed told a lifeguard who would then tell me father and oh, I WAS IN SO MUCH TROUBLE. I distinctly remember a phone call occurring during dinner that night and I was so sure it meant Curtains for me.

I wish I could go back in time and be my own hand on that little kid’s shoulder. Just to ask them if they were okay, not to shout at them. To hear them out on why it meant so much that day to see the light down at the bottom of the Wave Pool. We should ask kids questions more than we should yell at them.

I wish I could go back in time a lot lately. I wish I could collect all my Selves and have a sort of Town Hall meeting, you know?

“Okay, gang. Things are a fucking mess. What are we going to do about it?”

What am I going to do about it?

I feel like I am fucking drowning. I cry and I cry and I listen to the same three Elton John songs on repeat and I cry some more and sometimes I haul myself out of bed to go walk and get iced coffee and I cry while I order the iced coffee and the barista is very nice to me. I worry her, I imagine. Like I worried him, like I worry you too. Like I have always worried my Mom.

I’m sorry that I’m still like this. I promise that I did not mean to be.

I cannot see the light at the bottom right now. I cannot see the bottom at all. What I feel is bottomless. It’s like I have accidentally made my way out into the deep end when the waves get turned up on high, and I’m out in the very middle with nothing to hold, and I’m really scared, but I’m also so tired of treading water and sometimes slipping under sounds easier. Because maybe it wouldn’t be giving up? Maybe it would just be joining the mermaids.

But here’s the thing, I think. I feel completely fucking miserable right now. But I am stubborn and I love you, so I’m going to keep engaging my non-existent fucking core muscles to stay afloat out here. Because there will be summers at the water park again someday and I do want to be there, I promise. I want us to all go together and I can tell you stories about my childhood and I can buy you as many popsicles as you think you can stand.

Our tongues will be purple, our hair will smell like chlorine, and maybe we won’t be “happy,” but maybe we will be at peace.

If you need to take a break to hold your breath and look at the light, my hand on your shoulder is only there to support you. I trust that you are coming back up when you’re ready.

Thank you for reading. Take care of yourself if you need help.

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